The Philippines telecoms regulator announced plans to hold a 3G and 4G auction early next year, with interest from a number of companies looking to launch a new mobile network.

Gamaliel Cordoba, a commissioner at the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), told the Inquirer that the auction, which will only be open to new players and be the NTC’s first, will likely involve assistance from the World Bank, which would consult on spectrum valuations.

“Early next year, we can put this together, but the final approval will come from the Department of Information and Communications Technology,” Cordoba said.

The specific frequencies and the lot sizes have yet to be worked out, but Cordoba said it could include spectrum returned to the government after two merger deals over the last five years, the newspaper reported.

The country’s president Rodrigo Duterte last week warned the county’s two dominant mobile operators – PLDT-Smart and Globe Telecom – that he will open the market to Chinese competition if they fail to improve their poor service.

Smart and Globe, which control 99 per cent of the county’s mobile connections, in May jointly purchased the telecoms assets of San Miguel Corp, which previously was considering launching a third mobile operation in partnership with Australia’s Telstra to inject some much-needed competition into the market.

The Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) attempted to review the deal, which included most of the country’s valuable 700MHz spectrum, but has been blocked by the courts after Smart and Globe filed for temporary restraining orders in July. PCC issued a statement in late August warning that the deal is “likely” to negatively impact competition.

Before the auction can move ahead, the dispute over the deal must be resolved as it would impact spectrum availability, Cordoba said.

The Inquirer said Smart and Globe control about 78 per cent of the available mobile spectrum.